For the past couple of years Applebee's has been trying to broaden its appeal by experimenting with "Club Applebee's" in a handful of locations. Their latest move suggests that this club-ified, late-night version of the chain might be the future of the company: Applebee's is taking the model national, calling it "bee's Late Night."
The after-hours makeover will involve late hours -- locations will be open until 2 a.m. -- and will feature cocktails, strobe lights and other elements established by the already popular Club Applebee's.
Ad Age reported earlier this month that the re-imagined eateries offer half-price appetizers and drink specials against a backdrop of dance music or karaoke. Several have theme nights like trivia night, '80s night and even a luau. Before the national rollout, about 100 locations called themselves Club Applebee's with roughly half of them in central Florida.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently ventured into one such location in the St. Louis, Missouri suburb of St. Charles, offering an on-the-ground view of the business model. One teenager, after taking in the karaoke scene, proclaimed it "actually kind of fun,” adding, “I mean, there’s not much else to do around here. It’s the suburbs.”
BusinessWeek also spoke with Applebee's senior vice president Becky Johnson, who explained that bee’s Late Night was inspired by a slang term for McDonald's, "Mickey D's":
“That was a street slang term, people playing with the name. We found out that ‘the bee’s’ is how the kids are describing Applebee’s.” By “kids,” she means twenty- and thirtysomething singles who may eat at Applebee’s with co-workers or family members, but who generally go elsewhere—like, to an actual bar—at night and on the weekends. “The bee’s is an overt invitation to them,” says Johnson. “We want them back.”
Before the late night re-branding, most of Applebee's 1,870 locations in the U.S. closed at 10 p.m. BusinessWeek notes that Chili's and Ruby Tuesdays close at about that time as well, but TGI Friday's usually stay open later.
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Denny's may be known for its gut bomb menu items such as the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/01/dennys-mac-n-cheese-patty-melt_n_945390.html" target="_hplink">mac n cheese patty melt</a>, but survey participants were not so enthused with the offerings.
A stack of big fluffy pancakes is not enough to persuade people to vote IHOP #1. Instead, participants voted it number 16.
15. Ruby Tuesday
Ruby Tuesday's was called out for having the healthiest menu choices, but that wasn't enough to make it a favorite chain.
14. TGI Friday's
With a somewhat similar menu to Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday's also did not stack up so high.
0.7% thought Chili's fajitas, quesadillas and other offerings were worthy of the number one spot.
Noticing a pattern here? Applebee's only fared a tad better than its competitors.
11. Golden Corral
Just edging into the top 10 is Golden Corral, perhaps not the best known chain, but definitely a player. Based on this survey, it seems as if buffets are still popular, and Golden Corral was considered the best value.
10. Longhorn Steakhouse
Longhorn Steakhouse may not be the next Peter Luger's, but it makes enough diners happy enough.
9. Red Robin
We can't help wondering if the catchy Red Robin jingle contributes to the chain's success.
8. Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel has almost a cult following of fans craving Southern-inspired fare.
7. Outback Steakhouse
Those bloomin' onions apparently keep bringing diners back. Oh, and the steaks.
6. Red Lobster
Endless shrimp and cheap lobster make one happy casual diner.
Massive portions of Italian food are enough to give this chain the number 5 spot.
4. PF Chang's
PF Chang's was the only Chinese food chain to break the Top 17.
3. Olive Garden
Never-ending breadsticks and pasta bowls are perhaps enough to warrant a bronze medal.
2. Texas Roadhouse
The surprising silver medalist, Texas Roadhouse, is known for its Americana fare.
1. Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory captured 7.3% of the vote share, which was more than double the second place finisher, Texas Roadhouse. Perhaps people are digging the new <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/01/cheesecake-factory-debuts_n_915201.html" target="_hplink">Skinnylicious menu</a>. This is the second year in a row that the Cheesecake Factory has nabbed the number one spot.